Leave the Village or Die!

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“Leave the Village or Die!” Ensign, Feb. 1976, 32–33

“Leave the Village or Die!”

Why does a son honor his father? Sekeli Sale Manu, the second youngest in a family of eleven children, could tell you why he does, for when he speaks of his father, Sale, it is with a reverence that stirs the heart.

When Sekeli was ten years of age, his father and family were called as missionaries to go to Sataupaii, Western Samoa, to establish a branch of the Church in that village. The Mormons were hated and persecuted there, and on one occasion an angry mob, led by a local minister, attacked the Manu family while they were visiting the sick. Sekeli can still remember being pushed to the ground, along with all of his brothers and sisters, while the minister pushed Sale up against a tree with a machete at his throat and said, “Why do you steal my sheep?”

“Because you deceive this people and you do not know what is the truth,” Sale Manu responded. Threatened that he and all his family would be killed if they did not deny the faith, Sale Manu responded, “I will not deny that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.” The threat was not carried out, but harassment continued and finally a note from the village high chief came: “Leave the village or die.”

Sale Manu paddled his outrigger canoe two days and two nights to see President John Adams and ask him what to do. President Adams instructed Sale to pray about it and assured him the Lord would answer his prayers. Again two days and two nights were spent upon the waters returning to his family, praying for guidance, and when he returned he gathered his frightened family around him and said, “It is the Lord’s will that we stay on this island and in this village, and if necessary, seal our testimonies with our own blood that we do know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”

On December 24, 1945, their gardens were destroyed, their trees felled, and their pineapples uprooted. The village high chief said they must be gone by morning or they would be burned alive.

Christmas morning found the Manu family kneeling in prayer, dressed in their finest clothes. There were not enough white shirts for the boys, so Sekeli went without. When the mob set fire to their house, the family retreated to the cookhouse, and this too was set on fire.

A huge bonfire was built as commanded by the high chief, and the Manu family was given one last chance to leave the village. Sale Manu stood his ground. “I am here because my church is true and I will never deny my testimony. I am ready to die and seal my testimony that I do know that the Mormon Church is the true church of God.”

The huge bonfire forced all to stand back. The high chief said, “Sale Manu, I gave you a chance to save your life and the lives of your family. What do you have to say?”

Sale Manu responded, “We are ready to die! What are you waiting for?”

The high chief became faint. “Now I know that you are a man of God, and I cannot do this great thing,” he said. The villagers left one at a time. The huge bonfire burned out. That evening the police came and arrested the high chief, the minister, and some forty others. Later, in a packed courtroom, the judge was determined to make an example of the persecutors. To Sale Manu he said, “Whatever you declare to be a just punishment for these men, including years of imprisonment, I will grant you. There will be religious freedom in these islands.”

But Sale Manu replied, “I forgive them. Let them go home to their families with the understanding that they leave the Latter-day Saints alone.”

The judge decreed: “From this time forth the Latter-day Saints may preach anywhere on the island, and if they have enough people to build a chapel, they may surely do it.”

Hundreds of villagers joined the Church, and within a couple of months all but a handful of the 900 people living in the village had been baptized. When they asked Sale Manu where they should build their chapel, he took them to the ashes of the huge bonfire, where hot coals had burned their mark into the ground. Today a ward chapel stands on this spot and is one of the largest buildings in Western Samoa.

Sale Manu went from village to village to the end of his life preaching the gospel. During his last assignment, as branch president in Fagomalo, the village of his birth, he met a subchief who was almost convinced he should join the Church, but never quite managed to make the commitment. He said, “Sale Manu, if you will be faithful to the end of your days, I will join the church.” Prior to his death, Sale Manu purchased a burial plot that faced the front door of this man’s home. Needless to say, after Sale Manu died, this subchief and all his family joined the Church. The subchief later became branch president.

Today, all of Samoa is covered by stakes; it is the first country in the world to be entirely organized into stakes of Zion. Of all the discourses Sale Manu delivered, none was more powerful than the ten simple words he spoke to his son, Sekeli, just before he died. “Sekeli,” he said, “you be the kind of father that I was!”

Is it any wonder that Sekeli Sale Manu honors his father?

Illustrated by Scott Rockwood